One of the more interesting web-propagated art/DIY/culture memes has been steampunk, which involves the re-imagining of modern gadgetry using Victorian elements (a loose definition).
Perhaps inevitably, the trend is creeping toward the mainstream. The question now becomes whether or not this is a desireable outcome: do steampunk enthusiasts prefer to keep their craft on the fringe, or would they prefer to see a world of rich velvet and brass cogs?
Surely there is no pat answer, as the practitioners of Steampunk are as diverse as their creations.
The lead singer of a neovaudevillian performance troupe called the James Gang, Mr. James has assembled his universe from oddly assorted props and castoffs: a gramophone with a crank and velvet turntable, an old wooden icebox and a wardrobe rack made from brass pipes that were ballet bars in a previous incarnation.
Yes, he owns a flat-screen television, but he has modified it with a burlap frame. He uses an iPhone, but it is encased in burnished brass. Even his clothing — an unlikely fusion of current and neo-Edwardian pieces (polo shirt, gentleman’s waistcoat, paisley bow tie), not unlike those he plans to sell this summer at his own Manhattan haberdashery — is an expression of his keenly romantic worldview.
It is also the vision of steampunk, a subculture that is the aesthetic expression of a time-traveling fantasy world, one that embraces music, film, design and now fashion, all inspired by the extravagantly inventive age of dirigibles and steam locomotives, brass diving bells and jar-shaped protosubmarines. First appearing in the late 1980s and early ’90s, steampunk has picked up momentum in recent months, making a transition from what used to be mainly a literary taste to a Web-propagated way of life.
As soon as we see the cast of The Hills applying lipstick via a 20lb brass doohickey while wearing heavy leather gloves to stave off burns, we'll know steampunk has reached its potential as a cultural phenomenon. Meanwhile, a vintage train conductor will rise from his grave to vomit.